Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Wrong Foot out of the Gates – Incorrect Rules Explanations

I recently taught ( on hindsight, more like, attempted to teach ) Eric and 3 others how to play Stefan Feld’s “In the Year of the Dragon”. Early on in the game ( after the first round ), we discovered that I left out 1 or 2 important details. Not too bad I guess, the game went on smoothly after that. It’s great that we caught it after the first round out of twelve rounds.

But to my horror, when I went through the rules the day after, I realized that I had gotten 2 or 3 more rules incorrect. Bummer. Big time bummer. Small mistakes, but mistakes nonetheless. It irritates me a lot, and that’s what I deserve when I haven’t touched the game for awhile and when I didn’t come prepared.

This brings me to a topic I thought I would like to write about – Incorrect Rules Explanations.

I’m quite a perfectionist by nature, so I tend to get very irritated at myself when I make mistakes ( especially easily avoidable mistakes ).
This is evident when it comes to rules explanations.
Now, I don’t think I am the best ( nor even a great ) rules explainer, but I do take heart to know that I seldom miss out on important details in teaching a game.

But that comes at a price of course, and that is the preparation time spent behind teaching a game. I tend to read rules multiple times and prepare game aids before teaching a game. I might go into more detail in a separate post sometime in the future.
As for my fiasco with the “In the Year of the Dragon” rules, well, I didn’t prepare and I paid a different price instead.

Problems with Incorrect Rules Explanations

To some people, teaching a game wrongly or not in its entirety, is not a big deal.
Well, I tend to disagree.
Now, I am not saying that I get upset when other people teach me a game poorly or wrongly, I never will let myself get to that point. I only get upset at myself when I get it wrong. It’s just a great thing to have someone teach a game to you rather than the other way round, so it’s always greatly appreciated more than anything else. J

But even so, there are inherent problems with getting games’ rules wrong or omitted completely. And its effects on the group, the game, and the experience can be devastating ( slightly exaggerated :P ).

1) Not What the Doctor Ordered
The first problem is possibly the best reason why we shouldn’t get rules explanation wrong. That is, the players end up playing the game not the way the designer intended it to be played.
That is akin to watching a heavily censored / edited movie, or reading a book with two or three chapters missing. The experience isn’t the same nor is it as fulfilling as it was intended to be.
In some extreme cases, this can make the game unplayable, or at very least, makes the game seem poorly put together, or some parts of it poorly executed.

2) Go to the Basement and Stay there
Ever played a game once, hated the hell out of it, and decided to never play it again ?
It definitely has happened to me, and sometimes this can be caused by poor rules explanation.
In the same vein as the first point, when a game is played differently than intended to, the poor experience of the game will send the game into the “basement zone”.
The place where all “poor” games go to die.
This results in the player(s) not giving the game a second chance and thus is both detrimental to the game and the player itself. Missing out on a gem of a game for rules error can be a very sad thing to experience ( slightly exaggerated :P ).
And not to mention a big waste of money.

3) Pay It Forward – Poorly
One big ( and nearly unfixable ) problem with teaching someone a game wrongly is that, this person may end up teaching the same game to other people wrongly, and so on and so forth that multiple people will be playing said same game wrongly.
This “Pay It Forward” effect is great when it’s related to something nice like a kind act, but couple it with our topic at hand, you’ll get a fine mess and a poor way to introduce a great game to other people.

4) A Grand Waste of Time
Some rule errors are so bad that after 2 hours of playing, you still don’t have a jolly good clue what is going on. This leads to a lot of wasted time that could have been spent elsewhere ( like you know, on another great game ).
Another case of wasting one’s time that is more subtle is when a player has formulated a particular strategy in mind, and upon executing a final blow/move that he/she thinks might win him/her the game, you suddenly declare it an illegal move.
But what ? Say what ? Yeah you know, the rule that maybe wasn’t clearly explained or left out entirely. Seen it happen many times. The tension would have been so thick by then; you could cut it with a playing card. Which leads to my next point…

5) Some Kind of Friend You Turned Out to Be
Poor rules explanations can lead to conflict between players.
It may not have been the poor explanation that got them there, but somewhere along the way it set the stage for the conflict. Like in the previous example, some people are so engrossed in winning that the sudden abrupt halt of a move may send them reeling.
I’ve seen conflicts arise for less, and I won’t be surprised if differing views/interpretations of a rule may send people scrambling from each other.

Well, all this might sound super silly or over the top – and it probably is – but these are just some thoughts that I decided to write about. Yes, getting rules wrong isn’t the end of the world nor is it such a big thing in the epic scale of life. That I totally agree, which is why I will never get upset at anyone over something as small as this.

At the end of the day though, I think as hosts and as people who try to push the hobby further into the market, we should always do our best to present the game the way it was designed to be.
It is often difficult, but I certainly believe that it is something that can be overcome.
Well, there are the exceptions of course. :P
( I’m talking about those games whose rules are like a mini journal )

But above all, I also hope to speak to those who are used to being taught rather than having to teach a game. Teaching a game to others is not rocket science, but there is a level of skill and preparation involved, so do be nice if the explainer has left out a thing or two on the side. And do ask questions when in doubt, if something sounds amiss, it likely is, and your question can help get everyone back on the right track.
Oh lastly, pay attention ! :P

So that’s about it !
Keep gaming and play nice !


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